September 13, 2011

Easy Writing Workshop Mini-Lessons!

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It's been awhile since I professed my love for Writing Workshop, so I think it's about time for a post!  I'll admit that Writing Workshop isn't going as smoothly in my class this year as last year, but I know every group of kiddos is different so I am trying to find a balance between patiently reteaching and in some cases adjusting my expectations.  This year I have a squirrely group, but I also have the IEP inclusion cluster--in other words, several of my kiddos either cannot focus long enough for 20 minutes of independent writing or just plain don't have the skills to write for 20 minutes without 1 on 1 assistance!  All of that aside, we have been making progress and working hard the past few weeks to lay that foundation that is critical for Writing Workshop.  I've been doing "ideas" lessons like crazy to get my kiddos writing about things they're interested in. Here are two that I especially love...

Quick Writes
This mini-lesson is perfect for when you're pressed for time and only have a few minutes to spend on the lesson portion of the writing block.  I start by setting the expectations for Quick Writes: Everybody writing as a group, 1-2 minutes, write the whole time without stopping.  I tell the kids that no matter what, we keep our pencils moving on our papers--the ideas will come if we keep going!  Then I give a few different prompts 1 at a time.  In the past, I've shown one and then immediately had the kids write about it, then shown another and followed with another quick write, etc.  At the end, I'd tell the kids to choose one of their quick writes to continue working on.  Last week I showed the prompts one at a time (slowly, pausing in between) and then told the kids to pick one to write about during our quick write.  <--I think this was a better fit for my current group of kids, as they would have been overwhelmed by several quick writes in a row whereas last year's group did great with it.
During the quick write, I ALWAYS write too.  I'll talk with the kids after about my own quick write experience, and ask them to reflect.  I'll ask, "How did it feel to write without stopping?  Did anyone get stuck?  Did anyone have ideas come to them when they just kept writing?" etc.  After the mini-lesson portion is over, I'll send the kids to their spots for the "writing time," and tell them to continue their quick write or work on another piece.  I use quick writes periodically throughout the year.  Sometimes I'll pause during a mentor text read aloud and do a quick write asking the kids to finish the story with what they think will happen.  Other times I'll give more free-thinking questions similar to those shown above.  I love how versatile this mini-lesson is!

Mentor Text: Thank You, Mr. Falker

If you haven't read Patricia Polacco's Thank You, Mr. Falker yet, drop everything and get yourself to your nearest bookstore.  You may need kleenex.  This is seriously one of my all-time favorite books, and it makes a perfect writing workshop mentor text for early in the year. 
In this beautiful book, main character Tricia (based on the author's own experiences!) struggles her entire childhood with reading and math.  Every year in school she watches the other kids advance in their readers and yet she still cannot make sense of the letters and numbers on the page.  Tricia is terribly bullied and just plain miserable.  I get choked up every time I read it aloud.

Don't worry, the story has a happy ending, but as part of a mini-lesson, I pause on a particularly intense page that shows Tricia crying with the cruel words of bullies hanging in the air around her.  I get really serious and talk with the kids about how they think Tricia feels and how this page makes them feel.  Then I tell them about how when I was young math was really hard for me.  I tell them that sometimes I even thought I was dumb or that I could never learn math.  Then I talk about how we all have had times where we felt like Tricia.  Maybe we struggled in school and were embarrassed.  Maybe we weren't good at something in sports and were teased.  Maybe we didn't fit in because of our clothes.  I ask them to write about a time they felt like Tricia.  Some of the stories they tell are beautiful.

Do you have any favorite Writing Workshop Mini-Lessons?

Missed some of my other Writing Workshop Mini-Lesson posts?


  1. Patricia Polacco's books are such a gift. I just read Betty Doll to my class today. It makes me want to cry buckets! Thank You Mr. Falker is planned for tomorrow. :-D

  2. I love this. Patricia Polacco is amazing. I use her for mini lessons a lot also. Like your quick write ideas. Yesterday we wrote about something we wonder about (Ralph Fletcher) and it went very well. I wrote while they did too and I was as anxious to share as they were.

  3. I do quick writes all the time with my kids, I love it because I enjoy writing as well. Patiricia Polacco has such great books!

  4. I love both of these ideas!! I need to get my hands on that book - how touching!

  5. I love this author, too!

    These are great ideas. I used quick writes in 4th grade, but once I became a reading teacher I forgot about them... This may be something to use with my struggling writers in the upper grades to boost their self-confidence with writing!

    Thanks you sharing!

  6. I am so glad I found your blog. I teach 5th grade, too, and I start the year with Thank You, Mr. Falker. I LOVE all of Patricia Polacco's books. Great job on your race this weekend, too. Can't wait to read about your training for the KY race.

  7. So happy to have come across your blog! I'm a 5th grade teacher also, and just was hired in a district that expects the workshop model in every subject area. I've gotten tons of ideas from your site! Thanks :)


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